After being criticised of lacking any real campaign platform and essentially opposing the government for the sake of opposing the government, the Malaysian Opposition has released its long awaited manifesto, promising to raise incomes and lower living costs. The manifesto is sweeping, to say the least, and as with most political manifestos released by parties across the world it promises to essentially be a panacea for all of Malaysia’s ills. While many of the promises made are worthy campaign goals, continued fractures within other Opposition Parties and lofty targets that may supersede Malaysia’s economic and political realities make one wonder if the Manifesto is anything more than an empty campaign promise.
Malaysia’s Opposition, which operates under the banner of Pakatan Rakyat, is a strange amalgamation of parties that would seem to hold opposing ideologies. One party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), is seeking to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. While Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and sharia law can be applied locally to Malays, under the ruling Barisan Nasional, religious and racial tolerance has been high. PAS is largely dominated by conservative Malays, the indigenous ethnic group of Malaysia.
Yet, while PAS is seeking to turn Malaysia into essentially an Islamic state, Democratic Action Party (DAP) is looking to eradicate all religious and racial distinctions. Officially under the banner of Leftist socialism, the DAP is dominated by people of Chinese descent and has vowed to end affirmative action policies that favor ethnic Malays. Some of its leaders are on record stating that they will not tolerate any efforts to install Sharia law.
In between the two is the Peoples’ Justice Party, headed by Anwar Ibrahim, a long-time opponent to the national ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional. Originally, Anwar was a member of BN, but left after irreconcilable differences formed between him and then Prime Minister Mahathir. For the most part, Anwar has called for increased liberalization of markets but the sweeping populist platform of the Manifesto, which relies heavily on subsidies and cash hand outs, would appear to stand in the way of liberalization.
The election PAS has already announced that they are not guaranteeing that they would support Anwar for PM, should Pakatan Rakyat win the election. While PR may be able to secure a narrow majority in Parliament, should PAS pull out, Pakatan Rakyat will almost certainly lose any majority secured.
Importantly, Pakatan Rakyat has promised to eradicate corruption and cronyism. Combined, these two issues represent perhaps the greatest challenge facing the otherwise stable and growing country. Malaysia has the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s fourth highest illegal capital outflows, according to the Global Financial Integrity think-tank, and corruption is believed to be widespread in corporate and legal dealings.
Barisan Nasional has launched its own efforts to curb corruption, but so far the efforts do not appear to have been as effective as Malaysians have hoped. While Pakatan Rakyat has promised to tackle the thorny issue, they have offered few details yet on how exactly they will tackle the problem. Further, some observers have noted that Pakatan Rakyat will owe many of their allies compensation for support during the election – which could be granted in government contracts, appointments, and other compensation.
PR has also made sweeping promises to increase fuel subsidies, build subsidized housing, a RM 2 billion fund for increasing the minimum wage, and the a goal of increasing average household income to at least RM 4,000 per month. So far the manifesto is short on details, and while the alliance has promised to establish numerous funds, they have failed to say where the money will come from. For example, does Pakatan Rakyat plan to raise taxes, take on debt, or slash funding from other programs? As of now, these details have not been worked on to support the large and sweeping populist promises.